Phi Beta Cons

Serious Questions for Ward Connerly

Ward Connerly has, for more than two decades, been the face of the movement to end racial preferences in college admissions. This week serious allegations of financial impropriety were leveled by a former employee, Jennifer Gratz, who has worked for Connerly for several years at the American Civil Rights Institute. Gratz was the plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down a race-based admissions policy at the University of Michigan in 2003, and she has been an outspoken supporter and defender of Connerly in the past.

Gratz’s complaint centers around Connerly’s exorbitant salary. For the last three years, Connerly’s reported pay has been between $1.2 and $1.5 million — more than half the institute’s annual budget, according to the New York Times. This in spite of the fact that the institute has experienced budget shortfalls.

For someone who leads a “non-profit” organization, Connerly holds an incredibly lucrative position, don’t you think? He says his salary has recently been reduced to $850,000 — still many times higher than that received by leaders of non-profits with similar goals such as the Center for Equal Opportunity and the Center for Individual Rights.

In a letter to the institute’s board of directors, Gratz alleges that the institute is guilty of financial “irregularities” that include knowingly under-reporting what it pays employees in and effort “designed to facilitate Mr. Connerly’s high salary.” She also claims that institute funds have been misappropriated to fund various leases and contracts with close friends and family members of Mr. Connerly.

Connerly has dissmised Gratz as a “disgruntled former employee” attempting to “besmirch” him personally.

Set aside alleged accounting irregularities and the allegations of nepotism for a moment. Just the salary alone here is an outrage. It represents a serious failure in stewardship on the part of the institute’s board of directors, in my opinion. But the buck stops with of Mr. Connerly himself. How can he justify the seven-figure salary he has been receiving as a proper use of funds donated to combat racial injustice? Such extravagant self-enrichment inevitably harms Connerly’s credibility as a civil rights leader. And he owes it to his donors and supporters to subject himself and his organization to some serious accountability and reform, if not an outright payment of financial restitution.

For someone who has long admired Ward Connerly, what a disappointment this news is.

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